IIoT platforms and ecosystems: Industrial IoT platform evolutions

Vertical industries such as manufacturing, transportation and utilities are spending most on Internet of Things (IoT) software, hardware and services. With increasing investments in oil and gas and resource industries overall being in the top 5 throughout 2021 according to IDC 2018 Internet of Things spending forecasts, Industrial IoT (IIoT) and Industry 4.0 shape the evolutions in the Industrial IoT platform vendor landscape.

Artificial Intelligence engines and cognitive capabilities will soon become a hygiene factor in Industrial IoT platforms primarily driven by the need to surpass the competition and boost solution performance (Frost & Sullivan)

Just as is the case in many other segments of the market of IoT platforms in general (compare with smart city IoT platforms), technological evolutions such as new artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms which enable more and stronger applications in several IIoT use cases and areas where IoT and AI increasingly meet further contribute to changing IIoT platform vendor offerings. The combination of AI and IoT as mentioned in previous articles is natural, inevitable and evolving with a clear impact on the Industrial IoT platform market.

While some Industrial IoT platform vendors already integrate blockchain, others come with new machine vision, digital twin and augmented reality capabilities. In other words: it’s a fast moving Industrial IoT platform market.

Industrial IoT platforms - solutions technologies evolutions and market

IIoT platforms in flux: the bigger picture

Obviously, on top of adding more capabilities and technological integrations in the ongoing convergence of IT and OT, IIoT platforms also need to enable the essential functions which are expected from IoT platforms overall, not in the least on the level of connectivity, analytics, the enablement of applications and essentially turning data into insights and decisions.

Yet, it’s clear that IIoT platform vendor strategies continuously evolve, also taking into account edge computing evolutions and in the case of some providers fog computing support/readiness.

Integration of new technologies and an enablement/focus regarding specific use cases in IIoT with ample strategic, architectural and ecosystem-related choices to make in an environment where as-a-service models are increasingly sought obviously leads to an Industrial IoT platform vendor landscape in full flux.

While some large IIoT platform vendors go further and deeper into the capabilities they offer, others are more looking at partnerships/collaborations and look at niche use cases and applications. And there are those growing their offering through mergers and acquisition. The recent merger of the industrial automation software business of Schneider Electric with AVEVA whereby the EcoStruxure platform was mentioned as being essential in this sense is worth mentioning.

In practice most IIoT platform vendors have a mix of various strategies of course, it’s not this or that. Strengthening the own capabilities doesn’t exclude partnerships, ongoing verticalization or strategic mergers, well on the contrary.

With so many vendors claiming to have IoT platforms and the market of IIoT platforms changing so fast on various levels it doesn’t exactly get easier for buyers in the market for an Industrial IoT platform.

There is a broad offering of IIoT platforms but when looking at the vendors that provide the features an IoT platform at least should have the landscape becomes smaller with clear leaders and innovators

The word ‘claiming’ points to an additional challenge in that regard since with now over 450 IoT platforms the question often is what exactly do vendors mean. As mentioned previously strictly speaking we are mainly – but not solely -talking about application enablement platforms and a set of capabilities must be present to disinguish between IoT platforms and software that is labeled as such. ABI Research provides a good overview in the announcenemt of its Smart Manufacturing Platforms Assessment with additional context on the landing page of the report.

An additional element to consider is that, while there are certainly many – often large – organizations that embarked on an Industry 4.0 journey and Industrial IoT is ‘happening’, truth is that it’s not exactly a walk in the park and certainly not going that fast for many. Moreover, the use cases in Industrial IoT are not exactly among the most simple ones. With IIoT platform vendors enabling the type of applications and integrating the technologies that only so many organizations can use today it’s becoming a bit crowded out there. The IoT platform market overall isn’t mature yet and if you really start looking at IIoT platforms in a stricter sense there are some clear leaders and innovators, for instance in the scope of edge and/or fog computing or a few of the minimal functions an Industrial IoT platform should provide.

For a lot of companies in manufacturing, utilities, resources industries and so forth an Industrial IoT platform that can grow with them might seem the better option. That doesn’t necessarily mean open source or pay-as-you-go models. Modularity, interoperability and an open approach on the level of supported cloud service providers all matter. Depending on the use cases, there is also an increasing look at several IoT platforms at the same time whereby integration is key and there are indeed several Industrial IoT platform vendors such as one of the leaders, Siemens, that are looking to operate across several cloud providers to – at least partially – respond to a growing demand for open and, at the very least, interoperable systems.

IIoT platform market evolutions: vendors and technologies

Early 2018 Frost & Sullivan looked at four key trends in the IIoT platform space, predicting that Industrial IoT platform vendors with single complementing competencies would join forces to protect market share and boost customer value.

Partnerships and ecosystems of collaboration are essential for Industrial IoT platform providers and their customers on all levels: technological, commercial, in relationship with know-how, collaboration and deployment, and from a strategic roadmap and partner ecosystem perspective which is key for buyers

Frost & Sullivan Analyst Sharmila Annaswamy pointed out that the IIoT platform ecosystem isn’t just changing fast but also will see acquisitions and collaborations on a large scale to close capability gaps. We’ve already seen the first results of that. The big players with IT-OT expertise lead the pack while it’s especially those with single complementing competencies that are expected to shape their strategies and roadmaps in clusters of collaboration. And of course we can’t forget the more disruptive and innovative players that have joined the ranks of Industrial IoT platform vendors with an appealing offer and market approach.

In a report, “Landscaping IIoT Platforms—Vendor Clusters and Growth Prospects”, Frost & Sullivan compares IIoT platform vendors and vendor clusters. In a January 2018 announcement the company points out the following industry trends in IIoT platforms:

  • An inclination towards self-service models which would move Application Programming Interface modules to the center of IIoT strategies.
  • Open cloud developer platforms which focus on collaboration between IIoT experts and in-house software developers which are expected to accelerate proof-of-concept modeling for customers. GE’s Predix Dojo approach (launched as the Industrial Dojo in 2015 at the Cloud Foundry Summit) is given as an example.
  • Mainly in the scope of IoT use cases such as global asset tracking in oil and gas, transportation and industries/applications with similar needs satellite-based LPWAN technologies which are expected to overpower cellular-based network technologies across these use cases.
  • And, lastly, AI engines and cognitive capabilities which are expected to become a hygiene factor in IIoT platforms, primarily driven by the need for competitive differentiation and enhancing performance of solutions.

IIoT platforms: new business models and the key role of partnerships and ecosystems

Aside from these trends, Frost & Sullivan states that IIoT platforms are creating new business models with enhanced connectivity, control and convergence as key areas against the mentioned backdrop of evolutions, the growing need to turn machine data into insights and decisions, of course increasingly in real-time, with the platforms offering the tools and needed agility in developing application-centric functions which are unique to each industry.

On the mentioned cloud level, Sharmila Annaswamy says that, given, the increasing move of factories and other companies to a multi-cloud model (whereby we need to point out that this is certainly not the case for all manufacturing and other companies in the scope of Industry 4.0 where a cloud strategy often is still lacking and in several cases we’re even only seeing the beginning of cloud adoption for manufacturing operations and so on, albeit at faster adoption rates than before), IIoT platform providers will need to adopt automated load-balancing strategies to allow multi-cloud data transfers and elevate application performance across distinct cloud platforms.

The IIoT ecosystem is rapidly evolving, and will witness acquisitions and collaborations on a large scale to close capability gaps. While major industrial participants with IT-OT expertise are leading the revolution, participants with single complementing competencies will join forces to protect market share and boost their customer value propositions (Sharmila Annaswamy, Frost & Sullivan)

The “Landscaping IIoT Platforms—Vendor Clusters and Growth Prospects” report from Frost & Sullivan, which was already launched in September 2017 and announced via a ReportBuyer press release looks at IIoT platform vendor strategies but also benchmarks IIoT platforms, taking into account “various aspects such as product positioning, customer centricity, scalability, and cloud flexibility.”

Among the Industrial IoT platforms benchmarked by Frost & Sullivan are Predix (GE), Bosch IoT Suite, Azure IoT Suite, Watson IoT Platform (IBM), Condence’s IIoT platform, AXOOM, Losant Enterprise IoT platform, Altizon’s Datonis IIoT platform, Cisco’s Jasper, PTC’s Thingworx, Siemens MindSphere, Telit deviceWISE, Lumada (Hitachi Vantara) and Leonardo (SAP).

You can buy the full report here.

Top image: Shutterstock – Copyright: EtiAmmos – All other images are the property of their respective mentioned owners.